According to the Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers under the age of 35 is actually increasing, marking only the second time in the last century that has occurred. Many of those who have decided to take up farming are young, college-educated citizens, who are forgoing corporate jobs in favor of agricultural pursuits.
The trend was discovered during the latest Census of Agriculture, which showed 69 percent of the surveyed farmers under 35 years old held college degrees.
Their decision to pursue farming is seen to be related to consumers’ growing desire for locally sourced food, increasing demand and providing support to smaller and mid-sized farms.
Local food systems, such as farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, also make the idea more appealing and operations easier to sustain.
These younger farmers are also much more likely to use organic farming methods and limit their use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers when compared to the average. They are also more inclined to diversify their crops.
As the local food movement continues to gain traction, even major retailers, like Walmart, have created programs to help them source locally. Younger farmers have also come together to form “food hubs,” locations that allow them to store, process, and market their foods collectively, making it easier for them to supply items to chains while keeping their prices competitive.
As reported by the Washington Post, between 2007 and 2012, the number of farmers between the ages of 25 and 34 increased by 2.2 percent even while other age groups covered in the USDA survey, aside from the oldest bracket, decreased by double digits.
A National Young Farmers Coalition survey showed that most of the younger farmers didn’t grow up working on farms, suggesting that the decision to work in agriculture isn’t related to upbringing.
Often, mid-sized farms are considered vital to the local economy but, as the average age of the American farmer increased toward 60, and their children chose to pursue other professions, many feared they would die out.
While the number of young farmers isn’t sufficient enough to completely make up for those choosing to retire, they are bolstering the sector. And, over time, many of the initially small operations grow, becoming full-fledged mid-sized farms helping to maintain, what rural sociologist Shoshanah Inwood refers to as, “the resiliency of the food system.”